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Foreign languages to be compulsory from age seven (U.K.)

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Travesty Jun 11, 2012

Does anybody really think this will make one iota of difference?

They still won't make languages compulsory till GCSE and children will still opt to drop languages at 14 in their droves....for the same reason they didn't like languages when I was at school.....they are considered "difficult", difficult in essence and difficult to achieve A-C at GCSE. Not to mention the cultural disdain for learning languages, which I'm sure plays its part.

Not only that, they have no intention of providing funding for it either. So where will the language teachers/assistants come from? That's right, they'll be taught by people with little-no grasp of the language they are teaching. Blind leading the blind.

Maybe I'm being cynical (or just a bit cranky this morning), but I don't believe chanting "Frère Jacques" to 7 year olds will result in a generation of language loving teenagers.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Michael Gove Jun 11, 2012

Has a lot to answer for.

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Alison Sparks  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:37
French to English
+ ...
@Ty Jun 11, 2012

You may well be right about the funding/teachers issue, and the idea that singing songs will not result in a generation of language loving teenagers.

But strangely enough I do think that singing "Frère Jacques" or any other language songs to young children can help them to develop a better ear for the sounds of different languages.

I used to sing to my lads from their very first moments, in English (obviously), German (the Brahms lullaby, Stille Nacht), Cantonese (a little ditty about Lap Sap Chung), French (lots of different ones), Spanish (can't remember them now), and any other odd piece that I could remember in other languages.

Now, although their language teaching at a Public School was fairly dismal, they do pick up things quite easily, and can even adapt to heavily accented English.

So on that particular point I don't see any harm in trying. Might be good for music learning as well, which also used to be considered a 'non-subject' in schools, although that is a difficult subject to do well.

And there is never, imho, any harm in trying to cross a few culural barriers


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Hege Jakobsen Lepri  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:37
Member (2002)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Probably won't make a lot of students fluent Jun 11, 2012

But I think even gaining some meta-linguistic awareness is a good thing for anglophone students and that, I believe, is a achievable by introducing languages early.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Indecision and Confusion Jun 11, 2012

On the cultural - broadening horizons point I agree, exposure to other cultures is always a good thing, regardless of the ideological/pedagogical impetus behind it.

I just despair at the dithering and the ill-informed, misjudged "initiatives" with language teaching in England.

They can't decide what languages to teach or why, and I know that there are a lot of Classical language enthusiasts out there, but I don't believe teaching Latin or Ancient Greek to working class kids will do much to instill the usefulness of languages to them.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Language is about living, not just learning Jun 11, 2012

In my experience, the languages I was taught (French and German) were taught by English-native teachers who had been born in England, grew up there, went to university there, and then settled down to teaching a school subject to English kids in an English school. It just happened that the subject they taught was a foreign language. They'd learnt all the tenses, all the vocabulary - and now they taught those things to us. It was their job to teach us enough about the language so that we could pass an examination that was essentially written, with very little attention paid to the short oral examination that carried very little weighting.

Living the language? Loving the language? No way! "Just sit down, girls, and write all the verb forms of this verb and hand them in to me when you've finished." So how did I manage to learn and even like the languages? Not through my teachers' teaching, that's for sure. My family were confirmed francophiles and also had German friends and I actively used the languages from an early age to communicate with other kids. I was one of very few in my class who saw any reason at all to concentrate in the lessons.

Most English teaching in French schools is administered in exactly the same fashion today, 40 years after I left school, and I have first-hand evidence that it's a total waste of time in most cases: as an EFL trainer for adults, I have had many students with a desperate need for the basics of English - after 6+ years of school studies.

If methods in England have changed an awful lot, then I'm all for this initiative. Otherwise, it'll just be a waste of time and money, and a disincentive to the pupils.

Sheila


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Methods have caught up, the syllabi haven't Jun 11, 2012

I'd say that MFL teaching has embraced at least some aspects of the more modern Communicative methods championed by EFL, although perhaps not to the same extent. However, if you look at any GCSE Language syllabus, it's pretty formulaic stuff.

The oral component (and listening) is still very much an afterthought to reading and writing (fleshing out a grammatical and lexical skeleton). In my view, the balance between language systems and language skills is still skewed in MFL (in favour of language systems).

I'd also question the consistency. For example, when I did my German GCSE (it may have changed now), but we weren't taught the cases, it was more the lexical method - just learning fragments "mit einem kleinen Kind", "von meiner Frau" etc. I found it strange that we had other grammar aspects (verb endings) drilled into us relentlessly, yet when it came to something we really could have found useful having explained to us, it wasn't in the syllabus. Naturally when it came to forming a string which we'd never encountered before, the chances are we'd get the endings wrong (not a sin in the real world perhaps but a point-knocker-offer in exams).

Things which could really help - language exchanges and the like - were non-existent.


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Vikki Pendleton  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Member
German to English
+ ...
Great in principle... Jun 11, 2012

I was fortunate as a child to learn French from the age of 7 (this was a lot less common in those days - I'm amazed that 90% of state schools now offer it already). The reason my school offered it is because one of the teachers happened to be French, and given the very middle-class location they no doubt thought it would be an added draw for parents.

Because the teacher was French and loved her language, I recall just talking about odd things in French, doing a nature walk and similar. I've always found that, although I prefer German (which I didn't learn until the age of 12), my knowledge of French is deeply ingrained, which I put down to this positive early experience with the language. That's the sort of teaching that should be offered, IMO.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Another problem Jun 11, 2012

Is the random selection and divergence of languages taught between primary and secondary schools.

For example, my primary language education, as it was, was French (a half-baked attempt at teaching French at best). However, when I arrived at secondary school they worked on a rotation system whereby your year of enrollment determined whether you took French or German. I started that school in 1990, a German year. So everything I had learnt prior for French (not that there was that much) fell by the wayside and there was no progression, no advancement between the levels and I began anew with German.

I understand the argument that exposure to one language may facilitate the learning of another, but it would be nice if the system allowed primary school children to continue the language they begin at 7, not gamble whether they will or not based on the school they end up in.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Getting them to continue all the way to A-Level Jun 11, 2012

I don't know if anyone else noticed this too, but the abyss between GCSE and A-Level is monumental (for languages).

If children were taught languages properly at 7 and were allowed to progress to their secondary school with it then it might allow the child to leave primary school with basic survival knowledge of the language (pretty much what GCSE is now - far too basic considering this exam is took at 16, after 5 years of language learning), then GCSE could be beefed up a bit and the gap between GCSE and A-Level would not seem so vast.

To illustrate: at GCSE I had a finite and limited set of words and grammar structures to learn, and language use was all about scenarios/situational language.

When I got to A-Level, I was expected to read Brecht and Dürrenmatt in their entirety.

I think the issue isn't just getting students to continue with languages to GCSE, but to take it further to A-Level too....and I'm not sure the goverment have a clue how to achieve this.

[Edited at 2012-06-11 15:56 GMT]


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Faustine Roux  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
English to French
learn your language first, then see. Jun 11, 2012

I believe that as long as British students are not taught anything about how their native language works, you can teach French from the age of 7, they will still be confused about it and will struggle.

How can you learn a new language when you don't know what a verb, a subject and an object are ?

Where I was "teaching" French, kids were learning it as Ty was describing : segment of sentences put together. They could say "J'aime le poisson" and knowing it meant "I like fish", but they couldn't tell how to say "I", "to like" and "fish".

Useless.

Oh, and how many times have I had to assess a Power Point presentation done with... Google translate


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Helen Hagon  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:37
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
O-level v. GCSE Jun 11, 2012

[quote]Ty Kendall wrote:

I don't know if anyone else noticed this too, but the abyss between GCSE and A-Level is monumental (for languages).

Couldn't agree more. I did Russian O-level and French GCSE and the difference was immense. It is possible to pass a GCSE by memorising a phrase-book (you don't even have to memorise it for the coursework element) with very little knowledge of the structure of language. When I did my teacher training in 1995 we were told not to teach grammar directly as children are supposed to pick it up through example. This may be a suitable approach for less able pupils or very young children but it is much more difficult this way to build the foundations for further study and mastery of the language.


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Texte Style
Local time: 03:37
French to English
Ditto! Jun 11, 2012

Sheila Wilson wrote:

In my experience, the languages I was taught (French and German) were taught by English-native teachers who had been born in England, grew up there, went to university there, and then settled down to teaching a school subject to English kids in an English school. It just happened that the subject they taught was a foreign language. They'd learnt all the tenses, all the vocabulary - and now they taught those things to us. It was their job to teach us enough about the language so that we could pass an examination that was essentially written, with very little attention paid to the short oral examination that carried very little weighting.

Living the language? Loving the language? No way! "Just sit down, girls, and write all the verb forms of this verb and hand them in to me when you've finished." So how did I manage to learn and even like the languages? Not through my teachers' teaching, that's for sure. My family were confirmed francophiles and also had German friends and I actively used the languages from an early age to communicate with other kids. I was one of very few in my class who saw any reason at all to concentrate in the lessons.

Most English teaching in French schools is administered in exactly the same fashion today, 40 years after I left school, and I have first-hand evidence that it's a total waste of time in most cases: as an EFL trainer for adults, I have had many students with a desperate need for the basics of English - after 6+ years of school studies.

If methods in England have changed an awful lot, then I'm all for this initiative. Otherwise, it'll just be a waste of time and money, and a disincentive to the pupils.

Sheila


I can confirm that children are still being taught that way in France. My son recently got 3/20 in a test on the comparative form.
I was about to get angry with him, but took a look first. The teacher had just asked the children to spew out the rules. My son hadn't bothered to learn them since he realised he had an instinctive sense for when to use "-er" and when to use "more". The three points he got were for the three examples that were required.

I actually took the paper along to the next parents' evening. When the English teacher started gushing about how good my son was, I thrust it under her nose and asked her to explain it. She babbled about it being a slight "accident de parcours", and I rephrased the question: "how come he only has 3/20 when there is not a single mistake in English? If we follow your logic, we can reasonably assume that another child may have reproduced the rules perfectly without being able to think of a decent example and get 17/20. What the dickens does that mean about their ability to speak or write in English? Will this be discounted when calculating his average mark for the term or do you need me to bash your head in?" (I didn't actually need to say the last bit of course))

As for foreign languages taught in Britain, I have had a student in her third Erasmus year thrust upon me at work. She has an A level in French and has been studying it at uni for two years, yet cannot string a sentence together, has only a very vague understanding of any easy texts I have sent her way (clutching at any words that look similar and never mind what the dictionary says - thus "délibérant" becomes "deliberately" and never mind that there's no verb in the sentence) and cannot spell even simple words like "receive" in English. Luckily she has admitted to not actually wanting to be a translator so I'm just having her make coffee and do mindless alignment and stuff. But I am seriously thinking that the histrionics in my father's tabloids about the "dumbing down of education in Britain" contain a grain of truth.

For me, languages were a form of romantic escapism, and I had a French teacher who dressed and acted like she was from Hogwarts, every school text sounded like an incantation as she read to us, we were truly entranced. Mrs Fyfe was unforgettable and I raise my glass to her!


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Bread and circuses Jun 11, 2012

It's easier to chuck a few French words at 7 year olds, even if done by a teacher who says 'Bon matin' (fact) than to tackle the catastrophic mess that MFL is in at secondary level. I'd like to know when and why kids suddenly decided that languages were "too difficult". Now it isn't because I had a penchant for languages that I have fond memories of my secondary school French or Spanish lessons. MFL O'levels were compulsory but I don't recall complaining. At O'level it was an opportunity to have fun with language, sing a few songs, act out some sketches, then by A'level we were reading literature from far-flung places and being inspired by a whole new culture. Why is that not fascinating to kids nowadays? What has suddenly become 'difficult' about languages?

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Hebrew to English
Perhaps it's the introduction of... Jun 11, 2012

....the "softer" subjects (General Studies, Media Studies et al - the so-called Mickey Mouse subjects). Compared to these it probably is more challenging, but I wouldn't draw any vast difference to English, Maths, Sciences or other Humanities.

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